September 01, 2017

#Arkema, #Harvey, "the media," kibbitzers and strawmanners

The Arkema explosion, and a "movement skeptic" former Facebook friend's (more on that in a second post) response to media coverage of it led me to say "enough." Kibbitzing about how "the media" is ignorant about chemicals when they report on them all the time in a place like Houston led me to say "more than enough."

Firststrawmanning the actual individual members of "the media" with the word "chemophobia" is a sure way to have actual individual members of the media treat your pseudoskepticism skeptically, Jeff Wagg, and others like you. (As he posts to "public" on Facebook, no privacy violations on my normal personal terms of talking about Facebook posting.)

Second, I think most people think of "the media" as like "lawyers" — bad guys until one of them is defending YOU or telling YOUR story. The reality is different.
Naomi Baker, LinkedIn photo

Third, when a friend of yours comes on and starts clit-swinging (can't call it dick-swinging, can I saw that would be more "mansplaining" and more on that in the second post — and since that was the final accusation against me, I have no better way of expressing the sarcasm) about why Texas has chemical records secret AND GETS IT WRONG, you're asking for more trouble yet.

Naomi Baker claims this was all due to 9-11. NOT EVEN CLOSE.

It was a year after the West explosion in 2013, where I know first responders who fought that fire or controlled traffic (because my own newspaper was less than an hour away) that then-Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott ruled Texas chemical plant records should be sealed. And cited the West explosion as why. Then said "drive around" if you want to find out.

And, whether you work, or worked at EPA, or not, if you're too ignorant to know that, and claim "9/11," you should SHUT UP. I rarely, rarely, am that direct, and very rarely use all caps. But, you earned it. And you should definitely not accuse someone of "mansplaining." That's doubly true if you live in Texas, which Naomi Baker's FB indicated was true. And, if stereotypical males are the ones who "always have to win," you seemed to be exhibiting that more than me.

(And now, Arkema and TCEQ are playing footsie with each other on non-release of Arkema's Tier Two chemical inventory. Would this also be "chemophobia" for "the media" to report on it?)

But, she worked WITH the EPA, she didn't work FOR it. Her LinkedIn profile says she's worked TWENTY YEARS in the energy industry. And is in Houston right now for a natural-gas processing company, one that works with dirty sour gas as part of their work, apparently. Before that? Dirty oil pipeline company ENBRIDGE!

She VERY carefully said on Facebook that she'd never worked in the "chemical industry" or, IIRC, a "refinery." Very nice. Or "nice." But hiding a lot of dirty reality. So, she's not ignorant at all. She's #oilsplaining.

Also, if you worked "with" the EPA in Texas, you'd know that the EPA threatened to pull back its state outsourcing of urban smog regulation and similar things from the Texas Department of Environmental Quality because oversight was that bad. And that environmental organizations asked for that to be done. That's just a sample.

Of course, having discovered her real employment history, I know she knows all of this and more.

Now, to background on the actual explosion and regulatory history against Arkema. A "big" $110,000 in fines, pled down to $90,000, is a slap on the wrist. Especially when that was for not hazardous but "highly hazardous chemicals." And, given that the French parent had a  2015 revenue of more than $8 billion, $90,000, or even $110,000, is a slap on the hand indeed. That's not surprising, as Arkema is a spinoff of French oil giant Total. Its most recent net profit was $400 million.

And you'd know that Texas regulators, even more than the feds, have a habit of wrist-slapping, if you've also worked with the Texas Railroad Commission. Given that I've read about, and written stories about, actual dollar amounts of RRC fines, I actually do know that.

(As shown by High Country News, on remediation of abandoned uranium mines, the EPA in general stiffs the general public while hand-slapping big business.)

And, if you weren't strawmanning the media as if they were chemtrailers, Jeff Wagg, you might have read "highly hazardous chemicals" somewhere. And, you might have been a little less butthurt when I suggested, but did not outrightly state, that you were coming close to strawmanning. I only made that statement as a definite after I blocked you.

Ms. Baker, you'd also know that, re your ignorance about (or willful lying about) West, Gov. Abbott, etc., above, that Arkema had long refused to release its risk management plan.

Speaking of the EPA there now, and its TCEQ flunkies, or maybe it's the other way around? Per a story from the Houston Chronicle, aka "the media," this:
Environmental Protection Agency and the Texas Commission for Environmental Quality described the incident at the Arkema Inc. facility in Crosby as a fire, not a chemical release. 
The agencies said airborne sampling shows the smoke did not contain concerning levels of toxic chemicals.
What is a "concerning level" of a chemical? Ms. Baker, since you have a chemical engineering degree, shouldn't EPA have ppm or ppb DATA on how it defines a threshold for "concerning"?

Answer is "yes," of course. 

Ms. Baker then went on to say, well, yes, Republicans are worse on this, but, these things happen everywhere.

Well, Dear Leader weakened the EPA somewhat himself. Guess his community organizing on Chicago's South Side never touched on economic justice. (And, environmental racism is real.) Also, environmental organizations, the biggest, have chemists and chemical engineers who help advise them.

That said, he didn't so weaken the EPA that it didn't propose NEW chemical safety rules. Rules shit-canned by Trump's EPA head. Ms. Baker, since you've worked "with" the EPA, you surely know that. And, per Greg Abbott's weekend driving suggestions, including through West, Texas, you know this is NOT "9/11."

And, Saturday afternoon, the AP reported it had visited a bunch of Houston-area Superfund sites — on the ground or water by the ground, NOT just "visiting" by air — that the EPA claimed were inaccessible.

If only Ms. Baker, in her working "with" the EPA, could tell me what's hindering the EPA, I would be so enlightened! 

If only Mr. Wagg, in his oh-so-diligent concern-trolling the media, would make sure the AP wasn't committing chemophobia, we'd all be so blessed!

Maybe that's why, per friend and Chronicle columnist Chris Tomlinson, Ms. Baker, Arkema's CEO is a leading (but not solo) example of hubris.

Chris begins:
Richard Rennard, the president of Arkema, shrugged his shoulders when asked what more his company could have done to prevent chemicals from burning at his plant in Crosby. 
He rattled off the systems his company employed to chill the organic peroxides: Grid power, back-up generators, nitrogen coolers and ultimately refrigerated trailers. On Thursday the refrigerator systems began shutting down and the peroxides began burning and blowing the lids off their containers. 
After the disaster at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan, every facility with dangerous materials should know to keep back-up generators above any potential flood line. Yet that precaution escaped Arkema.
Then, to the PROOF, for the chemical engineer and the movement skeptic:
Rennard's fatalism in the face of a natural disaster is disingenuous. Experts identified the plant as high-risk, and Arkema could have designed a more resilient facility. But it didn't, most likely because management considered the risk too low and the costs too high. 
 We know this because the Houston Chronicle identified Arkema as a potentially dangerous plant in an award-winning 2016 investigative series called "Chemical Breakdown." 
That's almost all I can quote honestly under fair use guidelines. Go read Chris.

But, one more sample. The conclusion, in good sermonic style: 
If we learn nothing else from Harvey, let it be the danger of hubris. Despite claims to the contrary, executives will decide that mitigating a risk costs too much, and subsequent events will prove that they made a horrible mistake. 
That's why regulators, journalists and citizen groups have a role to play in demanding accountability and revealing the risks taken. Because when it comes to chemicals, the public shares in the consequences of a bad decision and often pays the highest price. 
Let's be honest, Harvey is not causing accidents. The storm is revealing the risks executives willingly took. No one has the right to shrug their shoulders and say, "C'est la vie."
And just maybe, both Ms. Baker and Mr. Wagg, you'd learn a little less hubris yourself. On regulators, you might admit the truth about Greg Abbott and about how minimal these fines were. 

One more point. Mr. Wagg, if he had just waited a bit, or not protested so much about a David Sirota link I posted, about how Texas AG Ken Paxton et al helped Arkema dodge more federal regulation, could have learned, as a good skeptic, that Arkema was much more worried about explosion dangers in 2014 than it came off as being this week, per that old Wall Street Journal.

But, you chose to say "the media" instead, claiming the media didn't know what it was talking about. Then, Ms. Baker refused to accept the reality about regulatory issues here in Texas, perhaps because she was in CYA mode. Then both of you started sliming with the "mansplaining."


Finally, as a member of "the media," I know the profession is not perfect. I've said that myself, mainly about the corporations that own it, but, sometimes, about the herd mentality, more than anything else, of writers, broadcasters and editors at its larger mainstream outlets. (I've regularly blogged and Tweeted about some of the "Putin did it" nuttery.) But, for a (former) "movement skeptic" to apply "the media" card, first, and then, to basically present media from multiple outlets in one of the nation's largest metropolitan areas (plus local representatives of national media) as ignorant was over the top.

Update to that: One other person, if not a professional movement skeptic, at least a tribalist, talks about me questioning her professional ethics. I'll let what I saw on the Facebook thread, including the parsing of exactly how she spoke, and the actual facts about chemical reporting in Texas speak for themselves. And he got blocked too.

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Update, noon Sept. 1: Here's a full list of Arkema chemicals at its suburban Houston plant. Please, don't engage in "chemophobia." Please don't strawman that all levels of toxicity are the same. Please don't wonder about the possibility of floodwaters mixing chemicals that are currently separate.

The reality is that you have a variety of chemicals that can form either bases or acids when reacting with water. Their pH causticity would dilute eventually, but, if blown in the air by an explosion, then landing away from the plant, could be more problematic.

And, the alcohols there are of course flammable. So is hexane.

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Update Sept. 7: First responders are suing Arkema. Here's why:
Houston lawyers Kimberley Spurlock and Misty Hataway-Cone launched a legal battle in Harris County court, accusing Arkema of gross negligence. 
Despite past flooding events and advance notice of the impending destruction of Hurricane Harvey, Arkema "ignored the foreseeable consequences of failing to prepare," the suit claims, leaving trailers of volatile chemicals susceptible to explosion after flooding knocked out the electricity and ability to cool the heat-sensitive compounds. 
The first of nine trailers of organic peroxides exploded early on the morning of Aug. 31, landing a number of first responders in the hospital following exposure to fumes from the chemicals, which ignited and left a 40-foot plume of black smoke that officials later compared to a campfire. 
"Although the explosions had occurred, no one from Arkema alerted the first responders who were manning the perimeter of the arbitrary mandatory evacuation area," lawyers said Thursday in a press release. "Immediately upon being exposed to the fumes from the explosions, and one by one, the police officers and first responders began to fall ill in the middle of the road."
But, this is surely more chemophobia. And Ms. Baker would probably add, if I'm guessing her politics correctly, that this is more of the ebil trial lawyers at work.

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Update, Sept. 14: More dead horse to flog! Valero now admits, even per the currently toothless EPA, that it "seriously underestimated" (i.e., apparently lied about) how much benzene, a known carcinogen, and other volatile compounds escaped from its Houston refinery.

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Update, Sept. 19: Superfund site spills under investigation.

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Update, Sept. 22: The newest and possibly most toxic spill yet.

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